Israel war: What is Shayetet 13, Israel’s elite special forces unit

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An elite special forces group in Israel launched a rescue mission that resulted in the recapture of an Israeli military post in southern Israel, according to video footage released by the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday.

That group of specially trained commandos was part of Israel’s Shayetet 13 fleet and was responsible for killing at least 60 Hamas soldiers and saving 250 hostages during the operation.


Here is everything you need to know about Israel’s special forces fleet:

What is Shayetet 13?

Shayetet 13 is a marine and naval commando unit that operates on all three fronts: on land, in the air, and in the sea. The forces receive extra training that goes beyond regular combat training and combines “long and comprehensive infantry training with specialization in marine warfare, diving, and the operation of special vessels,” according to the IDF.

What do they do?

The unit specializes in conducting sabotage, hostage rescue, and counterterrorism operations and has been involved in many covert operations that are paramount to the safety of Israel. Many of the missions are still considered classified. It is considered one of the top special forces units in the world and has been compared to United States Navy SEALs.

How many people are part of Shayetet 13?

It is not clear how many people are part of the special forces unit, but thousands of Israelis apply for the unit, and fewer than 40 are selected each year. The unit is broken into three groups, with the raid group being the biggest and most prominent. It also has underwater units that consist of divers and above-water units that conduct land attacks from naval ships.

How long is the deployment?

Members of the unit are expected to serve at least 6 1/2 years, but careers can be lifelong. The 6 1/2-year commitment is longer than regular enlistments. Israel requires every resident over 18 to serve in its armed forces, regardless of gender. However, men are expected to serve at least 32 months, and women are expected to serve 24 months.

Can women serve in Shayetet 13 or in other special forces in Israel?

Women do not serve in the special forces, but Israel has opened its special forces training day, which assesses whether people are qualified for the elite teams, to women for the first time this year. The training would require women to meet the same criteria as men and could lead to women serving as 669 fighters or specializing in explosive ordnance disposal under the Yahalom Unit. Shayetet 13 will not be open to women in the immediate future but could open its doors if women are successful in the other elite groups.


Israel’s other special forces:

There are 12 special forces groups in Israel, including obscure ones that specialize in underwater fighting. However, its most elite forces are Shayetet 13, Unit 669, and Sayeret Matkal. Matkal has been compared to Delta Force in the U.S. and is considered a field intelligence-gathering unit.

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